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River Tracing

River tracing is a mix of trekking and canyoning, while often swimming along the river.

Also known as river climbing, river trekking or mountain stream climbing, this is a traditional sport in Japan and popular in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

It involves particular techniques like rock climbing, swimming, wading, climbing on wet surfaces, understanding the geographical features of river and valleys, knotting, dealing with sudden bad weather and finding out possible exits from the river.


River tracing is done fully clothed to stay warm and avoid cuts or bruises. Often it is necessary to swim in your clothes through deep pools or climb up waterfalls. Once you have everything securely packed, put on your tracing clothes, the ones that will get wet in the river. Swing your backpack over your shoulders, tighten the waist belt, and go into the water.

Going Upstream

Accomplished river tracers may start from the mouth of a river. Several wilderness survival skills are needed, such as rock climbing, swimming fully clothed and camping in the rain. However, there are different levels of difficulty, so everyone can take part.

Reader Comment: Water Tracing

by Sebastian from Munich, Germany

Here in Germany, river tracing is called "Wasserwanderung" meaning a water hike. It's like a trek on land, but through water.

I joined a water hike led by an experienced guide. The destination was a nearby wetland area, ideal for our adventure. A few streams flowed through the hills towards a small river, with many eddies and and water holes. We carried all required gear and food needed for the adventure in backpacks and waterproof containers.

Fully Clothed into the Water

To protect against injuries we were told to keep all your clothes on for the entire river trip to avoid cuts and bruises as we traversed through the water along the riverbank or swam in the deeper parts. This was something I've never done before, but it felt like it could be fun.

It was a hot day but we were told to dress for the water temperature. I wore robust socks and tracing shoes, jeans, thermal top and hoodie, looking good. This was going to be an interesting experience.


After a walk through woodland, we reached the river bank. I got my socks and shoes wet when we waded through the shallow water for several hundred meters to the deeper area. This was easier that I thought. My shoes did not soak up too much water, and my jeans only got wet below the knees, just as I expected.

Deeper Water

When we reached the deeper water, our guide showed us a quiet eddy where we would swim to the other side. We checked that our backpacks were watertight and slowly went into the deeper part of the river with all our kit on.

Going into the water in all my clothes was an exciting new experience for me. It felt a bit weird at first as the water rose up my jeans and then soaked my shirt and hoodie. But it also felt good somehow and I soon began to enjoy it.

Once I was chest deep in the water I leaned forward and began to float with the current. Swimming in all my clothes felt good and was easier than I expected. Turned out to be a nice refreshment.

After a while the river got shallower and flowed faster. We decided to cross the river to reach the bank on the other side. There we climbed over or passed underneath fallen trees. We walked through an unspoilt river landscape.

Waterfilled ditches, ponds, and the many side branches of the river made this an interesting trip. Occasional sand banks along the river were great for a quick run. This was fun in the heavy wet clothes.

After we came across the last hill we reached the main branch of the river. Here the water was about chest deep and we used the techniques we've learned earlier to move along. Swimming and walking, we went with the slow moving river.

The fine weather made this a great bathing event. Every bridge we came across we jumped off a few times. It takes some effort to climb up the river bank in waterlogged clothes, but felt great when jumping in.

I really enjoyed this adventure. Swimming and tracing in wet clothes is great fun. I've been doing it ever since. Feels so good.

Reader Story: River Tracing with Tom

by Ryan from Galway, Ireland

It was a hot summer day when my friend Tom suggested a river hike that ran down from a lake. I've never done a river hike before. How is it different for a forest hike? It soon became clear.

Tom said the water will be a cool refreshment. When I asked if I should bring my swimwear, Tom said I swimwear is not needed. Really? Is this a nudist area?

Instead Tom said I should just wear some old clothes that can get wet when we wade through the water or swim in the lake. He wore T-shirt and jeans with a thin anorak, socks and trainers. I put on the same kit. After all, jeans are a sort of swimwear for outdoors.

We drove off to the mountains, parked the car, and headed up a narrow forest track to the lake. I got quite hot in my anorak, but kept it on as sun protection.

The lake was calm and beautiful. We wanted to go for a swim. As I began to take my anorak and shirt off, Tom insisted I must keep them on, as wet clothes will keep us cool on our hike later on.

So we went into the lake with all our clothes on. I felt a bit shy about swimming in my clothes, but it was fun. It felt sort of odd as I waded in and my shoes got wet. Then the water soaked my jeans and reached my anorak. I ducked under to get it all wet. Swimming in rain clothes, eh?

We splashed around a bit to get used to the clothes in the water. Then swam to the other side which was easier than I thought. The jeans felt comfy and the lightweight anorak was easy to swim in.

We got out of the lake and walked down a path along the small, slow moving river until we reached a waterfall, about 2 meters high. Tom put up the hood of his wet anorak and stepped into the waterfall. He looked like he really enjoyed it and I followed him, but forgot to put the hood up. The water rushed through my clothes and the hood filled up quickly, which was uncomfortable. I quickly put it up like Tom did and the water in it gushed down my back. Wearing my clothes in the waterfall was great fun.

We floated a bit down the river. The clothes felt great in the moving water. I kept the hood up like Tom, mainly for sunburn protection, as I have sensitive skin.

Tom was right. The wet clothes kept us cool as we headed back in the heat to the lake along the riverside path. Our anoraks were dry when we reached the lake, ready for another soaking. We swam across to our starting point and walked back to the car where we enjoyed a snack while we dried out a bit in the sun.

I thanked Tom for making me swim in my clothes. It really kept me comfortable thoughout the trip, and I didn't even get sunburned. Since then Tom and I always swim in our clothes.